MARTHA SEZ: ‘COVID-19 does not spread joy’

I don’t want to write about the coronavirus. It would be nice for people to be able to think about something else for a couple of minutes.

The problem is that today coronavirus is all there is. It has rapidly taken over our thoughts and rules our daily lives.

Every December I observe that Christmas is everywhere, that, even for non-Christians, in our society during the Christmas season, Christmas is all there is. You might as well just leave your television on the Hallmark channel all through December, because Christmas is all there is.

Similarly–but not in a good way–right now, coronavirus is all there is. At Christmastime, people do their best to spread joy and good will. We try to be kind and good to others. We send each other cards and exchange presents. COVID-19 does not spread joy.

At the supermarket, toilet paper cannot be had for love or money. People are hoarding it. Last week, in a local store, toilet paper was still on the shelf.

“You’ve got toilet paper!” I exclaimed in surprise.

“Quiet!” an employee urged. “If word gets out we won’t have any.”

“Why are people hoarding hand sanitizer?” someone asked me the other day. “It doesn’t do you any good if you’re the only one who’s clean!”

Full disclosure: I make soap. But it’s true that plain old soap and water work better than hand sanitizer to kill viruses on your skin.

On the positive side, help can come from unexpected sources. Shortage of COVID-19 test kits and masks is a severe problem in the United States. Alibaba Group co-founder Jack Ma–said to be the wealthiest man in Asia–is helping. The first shipment of Ma’s donation of 1 million masks and 500,000 coronavirus test kits to the United States arrived in the U.S. on Monday morning, and will be distributed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ma owns 28,000 acres in the Adirondack Park which was previously owned by William A. Rockefeller, Jr.

Yes, the Christmas season is stressful for some, but at least we know it’s coming. This coronavirus ambushed us and took over our lives by surprise. Who could have guessed, a week ago, that schools would be closed, that we would be unable to gather in bars, casinos, racetracks, movie theaters and dine-in restaurants or go to the gym? I know devout churchgoers who are not going to church. We wait to see whether our local shops and businesses will be ordered to close because of the coronavirus.

We may miss the conviviality of the restaurant and pub scene, but takeout food will be allowed under the new emergency rules, and here is a heartening bit of news: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced March 16 that the State Liquor Authority will issue temporary rules allowing takeout of “any goods served on premises.”

I should call it by its proper name, COVID-19, because there are other coronaviruses.

The common cold is a coronavirus. It spreads easily but is less deadly than other forms.

MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or camel flu, was first reported in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and has since spread to 27 other countries. The World Health Organization has advised people in affected areas to avoid “close unprotected contact with animals, particularly dromedary camels,” as well as “drinking raw camel milk or camel urine, or eating meat that has not been properly cooked.”

Severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, is highly contagious but, because it is transmissible only in its symptomatic stage, especially about seven days after symptoms begin, it is easier to contain than COVID-19.

Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the World Health Organization’s emerging diseases and zoonoses unit, said early studies on COVID-19 suggest that people who have contracted COVID-19 may “shed” infectious viruses even before they develop symptoms, so that people may “be contagious” even before they know they have the illness. (A zoonose is a disease that can spread from an animal to a human. Both SARS and COVID-19 have been linked to bats.)

The new COVID-19 pandemic affects everyone. I took a long time making the decision not to make my yearly Easter trip to visit my daughter and her husband and my grandchildren in California, postponing it until it was obvious that I should not go. It makes me sad. Loss of employment worries me as it does many others. We will learn how to carry on.

We live in interesting times. Have a good week.